Ted Waddell | Democrat
STEVE HECHT, CENTER, 2nd assistant chief of the Roscoe Hose Company, conducts a public tour of the cramped firehouse for some of those who attended Tuesday night's meeting of the fire district's proposed new facility.
Proponents face public quizzing
By Ted Waddell
ROSCOE April 18, 2008 Nobody doubts that the Roscoe-Rockland Volunteer Fire Department needs a new firehouse, but the question is at what cost?
While the firefighters are currently stretched between two buildings, one located at 10 Union Street and the other along Rockland Road (County Highway 91), the apparatus is housed in the 80-year old building dating from 1929 on Union Street while the other structure is used for storage and events such as fire department fund-raisers.
At present, the vintage structure houses both the Roscoe Hose Company and the Rockland Fire Department, which, along with the Ladies Auxiliary, have about 75 volunteers.
The firefighters are cramped in the old building, as there is only one entrance/exit door to the building large enough for modern apparatus, but local taxpayers are starting to feel pinched as they look at the projected $3.25 million cost of a proposed new firehouse.
On Tuesday night, the fire commissions hosted the second of two public meetings convened to present the proposal and field questions from the public.
Local taxpayers will vote on the Roscoe-Rockland Fire District’s Special Referendum on Tuesday, April 22 at the Union Street fire station from 6-9 p.m.
Deborah Worden, of Creative Funding of Damascus, PA, was hired by the fire district to write a line of grants to cover various costs related to the proposed project, and recently helped secure a $103,000 federal grant to pay for equipment.
In her Power Point presentation, Worden outlined several statistics related to hours recorded by the volunteer firefighters in 2007: 1,425 response to calls, 3,161 drills, 929 training, for a total of 5,515 volunteer hours in service to the local community.
By ratio, that’s 26 percent calls, 57 percent drills, 17 percent training.
“They provided $130,154 worth of services without cost to the taxpayers,” she said. “It’s not just about burning buildings.”
During the public meeting, Fire Commissioner Don Walters announced that NYS Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther had secured $600,000 in state funds for the fire district, a figure that was confirmed Wednesday by Gunther and Steve Wilkinson, legislative director.
In a letter dated June 25, 2007 (a few days after the Flood of June 19, 2007 that devastated Colchester and claimed four lives) Gunther requested help to the tune of $1.3 million from then Governor Elliot Spitzer.
Her request for aid was later approved: $600,000 to Roscoe to rebuild their facility, and $700,000 to neighboring Livingston Manor to add to their existing firehouse, calling both volunteer companies “vital and heroic.”
“On September 18, 2004 and then again on April 2, 2005 and yet again on June 27, 2007, both Livingston Manor and Roscoe were flooded during unusually heavy rainfalls,” she said. “As a result of these events, both fire companies have identified building needs to better serve the public and care for the rescued.”
Contacted in her Albany office, Gunther said, “If they improve what they have or scale-down, there’s no question there are needs. As a community, they need to come together and see where they can go with this… how can we make this work for everybody involved, and better for everybody who lives here…”
By the numbers
Charles Bastian, a representative of Bernard P. Donegan, Inc. of Victor, NY, presented a brief overview of the $3.25 million building project, which according to virtually all parties concerned, if approved by area voters, will increase local fire district taxes by an estimated 75-100 percent over the 30-year span of the capital project (borrowing through a bond approximately $2,650,000).
Based upon an assessed value of a property valued at $120,000, the annual fire tax would be $365 ($30 per month) to pay down the debt service over 29 years (according to Bastian, the first year is interest only).
A snapshot of the costs of the proposed new firehouse (data provided by Bergmann Associates): site construction ($420,000), new bay construction ($845,774), new office construction ($995,412) and an emergency generator ($52,000), for a sub-total of $2,310,000.
Add to that projected cost of the 15,202 square foot metal structure ($152 per square foot): pre-bid design contingency ($116,000), post bid contingency ($121,000), bid escalation contingency ($121,000) and another $121,000 earmarked for a construction manager to “estimate and manage multiple prime contracts.”
The total of consultant fees listed is an additional $397,000.
Preliminary project totals: Roscoe-Rockland Fire Department area ($2,770,000), Roscoe-Rockland Volunteer Ambulance Corps ($470,000).
As planned, the local EMS squad would move out of their old quarters and relocate to the new building.
Matt Kunz, a captain with the ambulance corps, said the corps recently approved paying $3,700 a month in rent to the fire district (if the project is approved by voters), for an annual cost of $44,400.
Bill Hendrickson of Roscoe asked how the ambulance corps would pay for this, and Kunz replied it would be paid for by “soft billing” to persons who need EMS services.
“What happens when the honeymoon is over, and the ambulance corps bails out… who gets stuck with the bills, the taxpayers?” asked Hendrickson.
Kunz said that when Roscoe floods, the EMS building also gets flooded, and Tula Brown of Roscoe drew a laugh when she replied, “I’ve lived here long enough to know that when it floods, I move my s to the second floor.”
“I know I can’t afford it, and there are a lot of seniors on fixed incomes,” said Brown. “I wonder if you gave them a set of plans, a wish list, and said ‘build this’. When somebody builds or buys a house, you have to know what you can afford beforehand.”
“All we’re asking is that you rethink this,” added Brown.
A narrow tax base
According to Town of Rockland assessor Cynthia A. Theodore, there are 842 taxable parcels in the fire district, and based upon the 2000 U.S. Census for the 12776 zip code, there were a total of 2,473 people in that demographic tabulation area (1,941 residents 18 years and over, with an additional 586 people over 65 years of age).
According to data provided by Theodore on March 20, the 2008 taxable assessed valuation is $66,160,420 and is based upon an equalization rate of 56.50 percent.
Asked her view of the situation, she replied, “There are too many unanswered questions… I don’t have the numbers.”
Hoping for more grants
The fire commissioners are hoping to receive additional grants to help offset the cost of the proposed multi-million dollar building projects, and in addition would consider putting three existing buildings on the market: Roscoe Hose Company’s 1929 fire house (estimated value $125,000 - $175,000), the Rockland Fire Department station ($75,000 - $125,000) and the Roscoe-Rockland Ambulance Corps building ($100,000-$150,000).
Selling the old buildings would yield an estimated $300,000 to $450,000.
Don Walters, is a fire commissioner and chairman of the building committee, which was formed in 2003.
He said that with one point of practical egress, that if a truck doesn’t start and it’s blocking the door, the firefighters are a real trouble.
“If it doesn’t start, we’re not going, nothin’s rolling out the door,” he said, “I couldn’t get 50 guys to push that truck out of the way.”
Perhaps feeling a bit of pressure from the standing room only audience, Walters said, “You people elected me… [and] for those who are running around saying we’re trying to put something over on somebody, it’s just flat not true… we’re doing it by the book.
“We’ve had two meetings, and we’re going to have a vote,” he added.
He noted that the fire district is still paying off two new pieces of apparatus: a rescue truck ($25,420 a year, debt retired in July 2011) and their main pumper (about $33,000 annually, paid off in May 2015).
Several people questioned why Roscoe-Rockland could not follow the example of the North Branch firefighters, who in essence built their own new station with a lot of volunteer labor, reportedly at a cost of approximately $200,000, thus saving money.
Idea’s a tough sell
A lot of folks in audience, while praising the efforts of the dedicated cadre of volunteers, weren’t buying into the idea of spending almost $2.7 million on a new firehouse located on a piece of property the state swapped with the county.
Spearheading the protest over the cost was Julie Allen, Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s community liaison, who said that in the last couple of weeks, she’s fielded 35-some phone calls from concerned citizens.
“We respect and support your efforts, but we’re not a rich community,” she said. “We are a community, a warm and caring community, and we need to work on what our needs are… many residents are retired and living on fixed incomes.”
“I just wonder if we couldn’t rethink what we need and where to get it so it’s affordable… we’re not talking about a little bit of money, and so many people are frightened.”
“These are frightening times,” added Allen, calling more community input into the proposed project.
“Before we get stuck with this for the next 30 years, we need time to rethink it and get the community involved.”
“This plan is so exaggerated, it’s not realistic,” she said.
While some folks in the audience had the impression that the fire commissioners message to the community was “like it or lump it,” a view expressed by one resident, nobody takes issue with the fact that the 80-year fire house needs some serious attention, preferably in the form of a new structure located outside a flood plain, a building planned with more involvement from the local community.